Market Fresh: Avocados

Step away from the guacamole. There are many other delicious ways to enjoy this versatile fruit. (Yup, it's a fruit.)
AvocadosMarket Fresh

Guacamole is incredibly delicious, but the truth is, an avocado can bring so much more to the table. These utilitarian fruits have a natural richness that make them a valuable addition to everything from soup to salad dressings. Their shape and skin texture are responsible for their nickname, "alligator pear," though they're not related to that other fruit (nor, needless to say, to the reptile). While there are a million and one uses for avocados, sometimes less is more: Nothing beats slicing open a ripe one, removing the pit and digging in with a spoon to savor the mellow, smooth flesh all on its own.

Healthy Fat? You bet
Avocados are high in unsaturated fat — the good kind of fat — so although they have a higher calorie count than most fruits (one quarter of a medium avocado has 84 calories), they're still a great addition to a heart-healthy diet. Avocados also contain a healthy dose of beta carotene (the vitamin A content is significant), as well as vitamins B6, C and E, folate, niacin and thiamin.

Selecting and storing
You'll find that avocados fall into basically two types: the smaller, darker California type, which have a stronger flavor and firmer flesh that lends itself to dicing and slicing; and the larger, light- to medium-green Florida variety, which are best for stuffing and mashed or blended recipes. Look for avocados that are slightly soft at the stem ("skinny") end, but that are still firm overall. If the entire fruit feels soft to the touch, it's overripe, and will work only in mashed or blended dishes. Avocados can be stored up to a week outside of the refrigerator. If they're not quite ripe, keep them in a paper bag for 3 to 4 days on the counter and put them in the fridge when they're perfect; they'll keep there for several days. Once peeled, sprinkle with lemon or lime juice and store, refrigerated, in an airtight container.

What to do with avocados
With their bright-green color and creamy texture, avocados are a versatile fruit that seem like a vegetable. They work especially well in combination with crunchier and spicier ingredients.

  • For a quick, creamy gazpacho, throw a peeled, sliced avocado in the blender with 1 1/2 cups each water, cucumbers and tomatoes, a jalapeño pepper, the juice of one lime and a sprig of cilantro. Blend until smooth.

  • Large Florida avocados are perfect for stuffing with seafood salad. Halve and pit the avocado, leaving the skin on, and scoop out 1/4-inch of flesh, reserving it for another use. Mix 1 cup cooked shrimp, 1/4 cup each chopped apples, chopped celery and 2 tablespoons low-fat or nonfat mayonnaise. Pile the mixture into the avocado halves and sprinkle with paprika.

  • The avocado's richness makes it a great smoothie candidate. Blend the flesh of one avocado with 1 cup nonfat milk, 1/2 cup ice cubes and 1 cup fresh berries. Sweeten to taste.

  • Add 1/2 an avocado, mashed, per pound of ground meat to your favorite burger recipe; they'll be indescribably moist. Add it to your favorite sweet bread recipe, and you'll get the same effect.

  • For a quick and colorful pasta salad, toss avocado chunks with cold, diced, roasted beets and rotini pasta. Dress with your favorite vinaigrette.

  • For a creamy salad dressing, blend 1/2 avocado with 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon nonfat sour cream and your choice of herbs (parsley, oregano and even mint work well).

For more recipe suggestions, check out the links below:

Avocado-Bean Guacamole

Tomato, Avocado and Golden Beet Salad

Mexican Poached Eggs over Polenta with Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa

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